Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The cognitive genome - the genome may be able to learn and direct evolution


Just passing on the fruits of a recent conversation with a knowledgeable scientist whom I respect and trust - about a major piece of work he is doing.

There is a very interesting and plausible new perspective emerging (with evidence from multiple places, and nobody yet having combined it) that the genome may be regarded as having 'cognitive' properties, due to the systematic inter-communication of genes - and that this is consistent with the ability to direct genetic change (mutations and other changes) in an adaptive direction.

This would be a major revision to 'the central dogma' of molecular biology (that information only flows from nucleic acids to proteins), and the standard description of natural selection as being based upon undirected (so-called 'random') mutations - the new idea is that (presumably as a consequence of natural selection) the genome functions  somewhat like a 'brain' that models the environment, and responds by changing itself in a directed (and 'purposive') fashion that would be expected to enhance reproductive success.

This would mean that natural selection would not have to wait for undirected ('random') mutations to generate adaptive changes to the organism; but instead (or as well) the mutation process would itself be manipulated to make adaptive changes much more probable. The genome would itself be able to accelerate and direct evolutionary change. 

Having heard the evidence, and knowing about systems theory as an explanatory model, I find this plausible as a possible biological mechanism. It may emerge as a better - more comprehensive - over-arching theory (paradigm) than the one we have now - or a significant supplement to it.

The question is - even if true - how important it is - and whether it has played a central role in evolution; or just applies to unusual and specific situations.